You may not have realized it, but chances are you’ve consumed something called butyric acid before, and believe it or not, your body produces it as well. It’s true — butyric acid, also known as butanoic acid or BTA, is a saturated short-chain fatty acid found in butter, ghee, raw milk, animal fats and plant oils.
It’s also formed in and therefore found in our colons through the bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates like dietary fiber. Butyric acid supports the health and healing of cells in the small and large intestine. It’s also the favored source of fuel for the cells lining the interior of the large intestine or colon. (1)
The BTA content in ghee is one of the main components that provides all those wonderful ghee benefits. Consuming butyric acid in foods like ghee or in supplement form has been shown to aid digestion, calm inflammation and improve overall gastrointestinal health.
People who suffer from irritable bowl syndrome and Crohn’s disease have been shown to benefit from butyric acid, and studies show promise when it comes to diabetes and insulin resistance too. BTA is also known as a potential anticancer fatty acid, especially when it comes to colon cancer. (2)
I’m excited to tell you more about this extremely interesting fatty acid and how it can improve your overall health — and how it already is without you even knowing it!
What Is Butyric Acid?
Butyric acid is a colorless liquid that is soluble in water. Scientifically speaking, its structure is four carbon fatty acids with the molecular formula C4H8O2 or CH3CH2CH2COOH. Butyric acid has other chemical names, including butanoic acid, n-butyric acid, n-butanoic acid and propylformic acid. (3) Along with acetic and propionic acids, it account for approximately 83 percent of the short chain fatty acids in the human colon.
On its own, BTA has an unpleasant smell and bitter, pungent taste, with a somewhat sweet aftertaste. It occurs as esters in animal fats and plant oils. What’s an ester? An ester is an organic compound that reacts with water to produce alcohols and organic or inorganic acids. Esters derived from carboxylic acids like butyric acid are the most common type of esters.
BTA is generated in the large intestine together with other short chain fatty acids from the fermentation of dietary carbohydrates, specifically prebiotics like resistant starches, fructooligosaccharides and other dietary fiber. (4)
The names “butyric acid” and “butyrate” are commonly used interchangeably even in scientific articles and studies. Technically, they have slightly different structures, but they’re still very similar. Butyrate or butanoate is the traditional name for the conjugate base of butyric acid. Put simply, butyrate is almost identical to butyric acid, but it just has one less proton. Judging by scientific studies, they appear to be pretty much identical in their health benefits.
1. Weight Loss
Butyric has gained popularity for its ability to possibly help people shed unwanted pounds. Scientific evidence has shown that people who are obese (as well as people who have type II diabetes) have a different composition of gut bacteria. Short chain fatty acids are believed to play a positive role along with probiotics in preventing metabolic syndrome, which almost always includes abdominal obesity. (5)
Short chain fatty acids like butyric acid help regulate the balance between fatty acid synthesis and the breakdown of fats. In a 2007 animal study, after five weeks of treatment with BTA, obese mice lost 10.2 percent of their original body weight, and body fat was reduced by 10 percent. Butyric acid was also shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which helps guard against weight gain. (6)
Most of the evidence for linking BTA supplementation specifically to weight loss is based on animal research so far, but it does show positive effects in treating obesity naturally.
2. Potential Colorectal Cancer Treatment
Multiple studies have shown butyric acid’s potential ability to fight cancer, especially cancer in the colon. It’s actually shown an ability to “modify nuclear architecture” and induce the death of colon cancer cells. This is likely a huge reason why increased fiber intake has been linked with less colon cancer since higher fiber intake can typically equate to more butyric acid present in the colon. (7)
According to 2011 research published in the International Journal of Cancer, “the role of short chain fatty acids, particularly butyrate, in colon cancer therapy has been extensively studied, and its tumor suppressive functions are believed to be due to their intracellular actions.” This laboratory study further shows that butyrate treatment led to an increase in the programmed cell death of colon cancer cells. (8)
According to a 2014 scientific article, it looks like “a high-fiber diet protects against colorectal tumors in a microbiota- and butyrate-dependent manner.” (9) What does that mean? It means that most likely getting plenty of fiber isn’t what fends off cancer on its own. It’s eating a diet rich in healthy fiber AND having enough good gut flora AND enough BTA present in the body that can provides cancer defense in the colon.
3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Relief
In general, butyric acid can have a very positive impact on gut health, which greatly affects the health of your entire body. Short chain fatty acids like butyric acid can help keep the gut ling healthy and sealed, which prevents leaky gut syndrome and all kinds of issues linked to a leaky gut like IBS symptoms. This is a type of digestive disorder that’s characterized by a group of common symptoms, including changes in bowel movements and abdominal pain.
A scientific article published in the Gastroenterology Review looked at butyric acid’s potential as an IBS diet therapy based on numerous studies conducted to date. Researchers conclude that “butyrate supplementation seems to be a promising therapy for IBS.” (10)
Some notable 2012 research included in the article was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 66 adult patients with IBS who were given microencapsulated butyric acid at a dose of 300 milligrams per day or a placebo in addition to receiving standard therapy.
After four weeks, researchers found that subjects who took the butyric acid had a statistically significant decrease in the frequency of abdominal pain during bowel movements. After 12 weeks, subjects in the BTA group experienced decreases in the frequency of spontaneous abdominal pain, postprandial abdominal pain, abdominal pain during defecation and urge after defecation. (11)
4. Crohn’s Disease Treatment
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by inflammation of the lining of the GI tract, abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Again, this is a disease related to a leaky gut. A 2005 study published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics was small, but it found that “oral butyrate is safe and well tolerated, and may be effective in inducing clinical improvement/remission in Crohn’s disease.” (12)
Another 2013 study showed that butyric acid can reduce pain during bowel movements and inflammation in the gut, both of which are extremely helpful to Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases. (13)
Short chain fatty acids like BTA truly play a crucial role in the maintenance of gut barrier integrity, which can help ward off a leaky gut and avoid an IBDs like Crohn’s.
5. Combats Insulin Resistance
A 2009 study published by the American Diabetes Foundation looked at butyric acid’s effect on the regulation of insulin sensitivity in mice consuming a diet high in fat. The study concluded that “dietary supplementation of butyrate can prevent and treat diet-induced insulin resistance in mouse.” Researchers also found that the mice treated with butyrate did not have any increase in body fat and the butyrate supplement actually appeared to prevent obesity. (14)
Researchers agree that more studies need to be conducted to further explore how butyrate affects insulin levels in humans, but it looks promising so far, which could have profound effects on treating diabetes.
6. General Anti-inflammatory Effects
Studies have shown the broad anti-inflammatory powers of butyric acid. It’s believed that not only can BTA help inflammatory conditions, but it might also have a helpful ability to manage immune responses. (15)
As we’ve said before, inflammation is the root of most diseases, which is why having more butyric acid in your body could likely benefit many people with various health problems with inflammatory roots.
How to Use
An increased intake of highly processed, low-fiber, high-sugar foods has been shown to decrease levels of butyrate production in the large intestine. Supplementing with butyric acid might be a good idea if you’re unable to obtain enough of it from your diet.
A butyric acid supplement is typically available at health stores or online. It’s most commonly found in capsule or tablet form. Dosage recommendations vary by product. Some recommend one to six capsules/tablets after meals while others suggest taking one capsule three times daily with meals, a few hours before or after taking other medications. It’s best to read product labels carefully and consult your doctor if you feel unsure.
If you prefer to get your butyric acid from foods, then the following are good choices: butter, ghee, raw milk and parmesan cheese. When looking for a high-quality butter, raw and cultured is best. This might be hard to find, however. Organic butter from grass-fed cows is your next best option. Some properly made kombucha (a fermented tea drink) can also contain butyric acid.
To naturally increase the butyric acid production in your body, you can up your intake of healthy prebiotics like raw Jerusalem artichokes, raw dandelion greens, raw jicama and under-ripe bananas.
Scientific research has found that fecal butyrate levels can vary greatly among individuals, but eating a diet high in resistance starches (like an under-ripe banana) typically increases butyric acid levels and may help maintain colorectal health. (16)
Butyric Acid Interesting Facts
Butyric acid gets its name from the Greek word βούτῡρον, which means butter. Butyric acid makes up about 3 percent to 4 percent of butter. Ever smell rancid butter? That unpleasant odor is the result of the chemical breakdown of the BTA glyceride. While on the topic of gross odors, butyric acid is actually responsible for human vomit’s distinctive scent too.
During his extremely long life (102 years plus), a French organic chemist named Michel Eugène Chevreul is said to have first observed butyric acid in its impure form in 1814. It was by the acidification of animal fat soaps that he was able to identify butyric acid along with several other fatty acids for the first time, including oleic acid, capric acid (naturally occurs in coconut oil) and valeric acid. (17)
Risks and Side Effects
It’s hard to find any documented negative side effects of butyric acid supplements. If you take a butyric acid and experience any negative side effects, you may need to cut back on your dosage. Of course, if you have any serious side effects then you should discontinue use and seek immediate medical attention.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, speak to your doctor before taking a butyric acid supplement. Also talk to your doctor if you have any ongoing medical conditions or if you already take any other medications before taking a BTA supplement.
To increase the production of butyric acid in your body naturally, focus on getting more foods that contain butyric acid like ghee and high-quality butter on a regular basis. Also increase your daily intake of fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.
If you can increase your intake of these prebiotics, then you can help increase the probiotics and short chain fatty acids in your body. This is a healthy and easy way to increase your butyric acid levels, not to mention your overall health.
Having the right balance of all prebiotics, probiotics and short chain fatty acids appears to not only improve minor as well as chronic gastrointestinal issues, but many studies show how butyric acid may have some serious cancer-fighting power, especially colon cancer.
What about a supplement? A butyric acid supplement might be helpful, especially if you suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease or are trying to prevent colon cancer. When it comes to weight loss, most of the evidence linking butyric acid to weight loss is based on animal and test-tube studies. A butyric acid supplement should definitely not be thought of as a magic weight loss supplement but might be helpful along with an overall healthy lifestyle.